Category: granular material

Previously, we featured some GIFs of bubbling, fluidized…

Previously, we featured some GIFs of bubbling, fluidized sand (below). Inspired by the same video, Dianna from Physics Girl decided to build her own set-up, discovering along the way that it’s a little tougher than you might think. To work well, you’ll need very fine, dry particles and a good way to uniformly distribute the air so it doesn’t simply bubble up in one spot. And if you accidentally apply too much air pressure, you may get a face full of sand. The final results are very fun, though, and hopefully Dianna’s lessons learned will help any other DIYers interested in trying this experiment at home. For a little more on the physics here and in related topics, check out some of our previous posts on fluidization, soil liquefaction, quicksand, and dam failures. (Video credit: Physics Girl; image credit: R. Cheng, source)


Asteroid impacts are a major force in shaping planetary bodies…

Asteroid impacts are a major force in shaping planetary bodies over the course of their geological history. As such, they receive a great deal of attention and study, often in the form of simulations like the one above. This simulation shows an impact in the Orientale basin of the moon, and if it looks somewhat fluid-like, there’s good reason for that. Impacts like these carry enormous energy, about 97% of which is dissipated as heat. That means temperatures in impact zones can reach 2000 degrees Celsius. The rest of the energy goes into deforming the impacted material. In simulations, those materials – be they rock or exotic ices – are usually modeled as Bingham fluids, a type of non-Newtonian fluid that only deforms after a certain amount of force is applied. An everyday example of such a fluid is toothpaste, which won’t extrude from its tube until you squeeze it.

The fluid dynamical similarities run more than skin-deep, though. For decades, researchers looked for ways to connect asteroid impacts with smaller scale ones, like solid impacts on granular materials or liquid-on-liquid impacts. Recently, though, a group found that liquid-on-granular impacts scale exactly the way that asteroid impacts do. Even the morphology of the craters mirror one another. The reason this works has to do with that energy dissipation mentioned above. As with asteroid impacts, most of the energy from a liquid drop impacting a granular material goes into something other than deforming the crater region. Instead of heat, the mechanism for dissipation here is the drop’s deformation. The results, however, are strikingly alike.  

For more on how asteroid impacts affect the moon and other bodies, check out Emily Lakdawalla’s write-up, which also includes lots of amazing sketches by James Tuttle Keane, who illustrates the talks he hears at conferences! (Image credits: J. Keane and B. Johnson; via the Planetary Society; additional research and video credit: R. Zhao et al., source; submitted by jpshoer)

If you inject a less viscous fluid, like air, into a narrow gap…

If you inject a less viscous fluid, like air, into a narrow gap between two glass plates filled with a more viscous fluid, you’ll get a finger-like instability known as the Saffman-Taylor instability. If you invert the situation – injecting something viscous like water into air – the water will simply expand radially; you’ll get no fingers. But that situation doesn’t hold if there are wettable particles in the air-filled gap. Inject water into a particle-strewn air gap and you get a pattern like the one above. In this case, as the water expands, it collects particles on the meniscus between it and the air. Once the concentration of particles on the meniscus is too high for more particles to fit there, the flow starts to branch into fingers. This creates a greater surface area for interface so that more particles can get swept up as the water expands. (Image and research credit: I. Bihi et al., source)

fuckyeahfluiddynamics: Pumping air through a bed of sand can…


Pumping air through a bed of sand can make the grains behave just like a liquid. This process is called fluidization. Air introduced at the bottom of the bed forces its way upward through the sand grains. With a high flow rate, the space between sand grains gets larger, eventually reaching a point where the aerodynamic forces on a grain of sand equal gravitational forces. At this point the sand grains are essentially suspended in the air flow and behave like a fluid themselves. Light, buoyant objects – like the red ball above – can float in the fluidized sand; heavier, denser objects will sink. Fluidization has many useful properties – like good mixing and large surface contact between solid and fluid phases – that make it popular in industrial applications. For a similar (but potentially less playful) process, check out soil liquefaction. (Image credits: R. Cheng, source; via Gizmodo; submitted by Justin)

Fluidized bed combustion and cleaning

One of the important application of fluidized bed is for combustion and thermal cleaning. Here is a video by Schwing that illustrates how a fluidized bed aids in cleaning and coating of materials

And if you would like to learn about the Fluidized bed combustion, this website gives a really good insight. Do check it out!